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Co-pilot hijacks plane forced to land in Geneva

AFP/The Local · 17 Feb 2014, 09:45

Published: 17 Feb 2014 09:45 GMT+01:00

Key points:
  • The Rome-bound plane from Addis Ababa was forced to land at Geneva airport after it was hijacked by the plane's co-pilot, Geneva police said
  • The co-pilot said he seized his chance when the pilot went to the bathroom before leaving the plane by scaling down a rope he had thrown out of the cockpit window
  • The co-pilot, who was arrested without resistance, said he wanted to seek asylum in Switzerland
  • The plane landed safely at 6:02am
  • The airport was temporarily closed but reopened for flights and departures at around 8:45am

The hijacker was arrested after he scaled out of the cockpit window on a rope, Geneva police spokesman Eric Grandjean said, adding that the situation was now under control.

The co-pilot said he had seized his chance to take over the plane when the pilot went to the bathroom, Grandjean told AFP.

The man, identified as an Ethiopian citizen born in 1983, told police he had seized the aircraft because "he felt threatened in his country and wants to seek asylum in Switzerland," he added.

A total of 202 passengers and crew members were on board the Boeing 767 as the drama played out but Grandjean said no-one was injured.

The hijacker contacted Geneva Airport and said "he had a problem with his plane and needed to land to fill the tank with kerosene... and that he had technical problems with the engine," Grandjean said.

He then said he had hijacked the plane, Grandjean said, adding that Geneva airport had allowed him to land "for safety reasons" and that the plane had been escorted by fighter jets from Italian airspace.

Flight ET-702 eventually landed safely in Geneva at 6:02 am (0502 GMT).   

"He parked the plane on the taxiway, he cut the engines then opened the cockpit window, threw out a rope and used it to descend to the tarmac," Grandjean said.

"He ran towards the police and immediately identified himself as the co-pilot and hijacker."

The runway was crowded with police and other emergency vehicles as passengers filed out of the plane with their arms up in the air or on their heads before boarding waiting buses.

"The passengers are safe and sound," Ethiopian Airlines said in a statement in Addis Ababa.

It was the first time since 1987 that a hijacked plane has been forced to land in Geneva, according to police, and the first time in Swiss history that a co-pilot had hijacked an aircraft.

Ethiopian Information Minister Redwan Hussein said officials were investigating the incident and trying to get information from passengers.

Geneva's chief prosecutor Olivier Jornot cast doubt on the co-pilot's chances of gaining asylum in Switzerland after the incident.

"Technically there is no connection between asylum and the fact he committed a crime to come here. But I think his chances are not very high," he told reporters.

All flights to and from Geneva were either diverted or cancelled early Monday as the drama was unfolding but the airport was now gradually reopening, a spokesman said. 

In a sound recording tweeted by Reuters former social media editor Matthew Keys, the co-pilot is apparently heard requesting asylum: 

A photo of the plane was tweeted by Geneva-based journalist Harriet Hadfield earlier this morning:

Story continues below…

This picture seems to indicate the safe arrival in Geneva of the hijacked flight.

More photos emerging of the plane.

Here is a map claiming to show the flight path of the hijacked plane.

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.ch)

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